No arrests for homicides, but police say 5th Precinct is safe

No suspects are in custody for two fatal shootings that took place in late May and early June in Southwest, but police say they’re making progress in both investigations and violent crime is down throughout the area.

“Because of the low numbers last year, when we do get two unpredictable events like that it suddenly looks like we had a 200-percent increase in crime, when in fact we just had those two events,” said Insp. Eddie Frizell, who oversees the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct.

Derrick Gregory Martin, 20, from Brooklyn Park, was shot dead around 10:15 p.m. May 24 off West Calhoun Parkway, between W. 32nd Street and Dean Parkway. Phelandis Depure Jackson, 29, of North Minneapolis, was killed at 2 a.m. June 12 outside the Red Dragon Restaurant and Lounge at 21st Street and Lyndale Avenue in what police believe was a drive-by shooting. A second man was injured in that incident.

The killings are the only two in Southwest this year and match the total number of homicides in the area last year and in 2008. Citywide, they were the 20th and 23rd murders this year.

Capt. Amelia Huffman, head of the police department’s homicide unit, said there’s no evidence to suggest the recent cases are related. Both shootings were unusual in that they occurred in popular public places when other people were present, Huffman said, but they weren’t random.

“Certainly these are not cases involving people who are complete strangers,” she said. “Now, the period of someone’s acquaintance might be quite brief, but these are cases involving particular individuals who make decisions to engage in violent behavior and it’s not random, it’s not involving total strangers. There are clearly motivations for these individual people.”

Some community members have speculated that the Southwest murders, along with other homicides throughout the city, were part of a larger gang conflict. Huffman said the murder cases this year have been similar to any other year: deadly fights, drug deals gone wrong, domestic homicides and patterns of violence between two groups. Some cases might be related, but she said she couldn’t link them all together as one big string of incidents with a common cause.  

“When it comes down to it, every single one of these homicides was committed by an individual, so it’s not a gang that pulls the trigger,” Huffman said. “And when someone is arrested, it’s not going to be a gang that gets arrested, it’s going to be a particular person. And it’s not the gang that gets charged, it’s a particular person.”

In mid-June, she said investigators were still interviewing people and putting the pieces together in an effort to solve the Southwest cases. Both investigations have made “solid progress” she said, but she couldn’t release any other details.   

“We’re certainly concerned about these particular cases and are focusing a lot of resources on solving these murders and doing work in the community that does prevent retaliatory violence where that is a concern,” Huffman said.

Frizell said the 5th Precinct stepped up its presence in the shooting areas, but noted that there has been no trend of increased violence in the region and this year’s statistics actually showed a drop in violent crime compared to last year. The most recent information from the police department showed a 10-percent decline in robbery (126 in 2009 and 113 in 2010) compared to last year through June 21, and a 23-percent drop in aggravated assault (122 in 2009 and 94 in 2010) during the same time period.    

“When it comes to the homicides, obviously you can’t put a focus on that because they’ve appeared quite suddenly out of nowhere, so to speak,” Frizell said. “But once it does occur and we realize that there’s going to be the worries of the neighborhood and concerns, I do shift resources to that particular area to make sure they get some proactive patrols over there, so they’re seeing the squad cars actively patrolling the area and it adds a little bit of a comfort level to them.”

Frizell said the department works closely with the Minneapolis Park Police and meets regularly with other partners including probation officers, county and city attorneys, block club leaders and neighborhood safety committees to stay on top of crime trends and shift resources accordingly. The most significant trend recently has been theft from vehicles, Frizell said, an often-preventable crime that the precinct is trying to spread the word about. He doesn’t expect homicides to follow suit.

“The community still needs to know that we are there as the 5th precinct for them,” he said. “And we’re letting the bad guys know that that type of activity is not tolerated here and I’d like them to think twice before they come into the 5th precinct to conduct these types of activities.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]